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By Chris Clancy
web posted May 20, 2013

Before the emergence of the welfare state, some help was available for those in need – real need. It was provided voluntarily by charitable people and organizations. This was one of the many attributes of what we now fondly refer to as "civil society".

Any such help could, quite rightly, be described as a "gift". It was freely given and the recipients were grateful.

Today however, a "gift" is the last word we would use to describe expenditure on "welfare". It is neither freely given nor gratefully received – which is putting it mildly.

In writing about this topic I recall watching a movie called "Precious". It's a story about a girl of that name.

Movie critic Roger Ebert began his review as follows:

"Precious has shut down. She avoids looking at people, she hardly ever speaks, she's nearly illiterate. Inside her lives a great hurt, and also her child, conceived in a rape. She is fat. Her clothes are too tight. School is an ordeal of mocking cruelty. Home is worse."

The movie is set in a run-down inner-city somewhere in the USA. The location doesn't matter – it could be any inner-city in any developed country – the story would be much the same.

For me, the most memorable character was not Precious, but her mother, Mary. The actress who played her won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress – and deservedly so – she made the part her own and then absolutely nailed it.

To any outsider, Mary's situation is desperate. But she wouldn't see this. I doubt it would even enter her head. She's a chronic welfare dependent – incapable of ever holding down a regular job – like so many others caught up in this insidious and pernicious lifestyle.

"Today, there is no serious effort to challenge welfare as a way of life … Too many citizens now believe that they are ‘entitled' to monetary assistance from the government anytime they need it, and they expect it. … No one asks where the government gets the money to finance the welfare state. Is it morally right to do so? Is it authorized in the Constitution? Does it help anyone in the long run? Who suffers from the policy?" -- Ron Paul.

The answer to the first three questions is, "No". The answer to the fourth is, "Everyone".

Mary's tragedy is that the world she inhabits was created for her, and millions like her, by the state. 

Worse still, we can't even say its creators were unaware of the dangers when the ball was set in motion – back in the 1930s:

"The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt (1935).

As time passed it became clear that the "lessons of history" had not been learned:

"During the '70s and '80s, Americans began to realize that providing unlimited assistance to the poor had its drawbacks; many people actually seemed to prefer a life of easy poverty to a life of hard work." -- Bill Bonner.

If people were asked to try and dream up a better way of destroying people's self-concepts and self-esteem, their characters and dignity - whilst dressing it up as the right thing to do - I doubt they could come up anything more effective than this.

Over time it evolved into something generational. Lifestyles and locations, based on welfare, began to form and solidify – to develop and grow - no longer just for those in real need.

Any attempts at cutting back on it would have been political suicide.

And so it continued - to the point where in November 2012 it was the only possible deciding factor in the re-election of President Obama – such is the extent to which a "welfare culture" now permeates American society.

But what a shocking waste it is for all those caught up in it.

And for the young people in particular.

No growth. No development. Day after day of more of the same - of doing nothing and going no-where – of living on fast food and fizzy drinks. Of wasted hours playing useless video games – of watching mindless shows on TV – of getting up to mischief or worse.

Just hanging around – putting in the time – messing about.

What a terrible loss of so much potential. ESR

Chris Clancy lived in China for seven years. Most of this time was spent as associate professor of financial accounting at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan City, Hubei Province. He now lives in Thailand where he spends his time reading, writing, lecturing and, whenever he gets the chance, doing his level best to spread Austrian economics.





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